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HIV/AIDS in the United States

HIV/AIDS in the United States

© Kbuntu.

  • Grades:
  • Length: Variable


Students read an essay about misperceptions related to HIV/AIDS and use statistical data to create presentations on the impacts of HIV/AIDS in the United States.

The essay portion of the activity contains stark facts that may be difficult to absorb. Depending upon students’ grade and maturity levels, the essay may be used as teacher background information instead of student reading material. The activity is most appropriate for use with students in grades 6-12.

This activity is from The Science of HIV/AIDS Teacher's Guide. The guide also is available in print format.

This work was developed in partnership with the Baylor-UT Houston Center for AIDS Research, an NIH-funded program.

Teacher Background

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate that more than one million people in the United States are living with HIV. About one in five (21%) of these people are unaware of their HIV-positive status. It is not surprising, then, that each year, upwards of 56,000 more Americans become infected with HIV. And despite improved medications, more than 18,000 people in the U.S. die each year from AIDS-related causes.

The burdens of HIV/AIDS are not distributed equally across all segments of the U.S. population. Among racial/ethnic groups, African Americans face the highest rates of infection. Hispanics/Latinos also have a disproportionately large representation among the population of Americans living with HIV/AIDS.

Unfortunately, many young people do not understand how HIV is transmitted or treated. This lack of knowledge, when combined with alcohol and/or drug use, can be especially dangerous for adolescents, who are more likely to engage in high-risk behaviors, such as unprotected sex, when they are “under the influence.” Improving students’ basic knowledge, understanding of risks, and decision-making skills can help reduce rates of teen pregnancy and infection by STDs, including HIV. In this activity, students will discuss common misconceptions and truths about HIV/AIDS, and will examine authentic CDC data about the epidemic in our country.

Content Advisory 

See the following resources for additional information about HIV/AIDS and advice for discussing HIV/AIDS with students.

  • National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, National Institutes of Health (NIH), offers resources on understanding HIV/AIDS: and

  • National Institute on Drug Abuse, NIH, offers facts about drug abuse and the link between it and HIV/AIDS:

  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides up-to-date information on HIV/AIDS prevention:

Objectives and Standards

Life Science

  • Disease is a breakdown in structures or functions of an organism. Some diseases are the result of damage by infection by other organisms.

  • A population consists of all individuals of a species that occur together at a given place and time.

  • Behavioral biology has implications for humans, as it provides links to psychology, sociology and anthropology

Science in Personal and Social Perspectives

  • Students should understand the risks associated with biological hazards (viruses and bacteria, for example), and with personal hazards (such as drinking).

  • Individuals can use a systematic approach to thinking critically about risks and benefits.

  • Important personal and social decisions are made based on perceptions of benefits and risks.

  • Many diseases can be prevented or controlled.

  • Personal goals, peer and social pressures, ethnic and religious beliefs, and understanding of biological consequences can all influence decisions about health practices.

History and Nature of Science

  • Science distinguishes itself from other ways of knowing through the use of empirical standards, logical arguments, and skepticism, as scientists strive for the best possible explanations about the natural world.

Materials and Setup

Materials per Student Team (see Setup)

  • Colored markers

  • Rulers

  • Poster paper

  • Set of student sheets (see Lesson pdf)

Materials per Student

  • Copy of essay (if age appropriate; see Lesson pdf)


  1. Select the CDC data tables you will use with your class. Please note, the first few pages of data tables cover the incidence of new HIV infections related to age, sex, and race/ethnicity. The last page specifically covers major transmission categories and includes statistical references on sexual transmission and injection drug use. You may choose to use or not use this page.

  2. Photocopy one set of the data tables you select and blank graphs for each student team.

  3. Have students work in teams of 2 to 4.

Procedure and Extensions

Time: Two or more 60-minute class periods

  1. Depending upon students' grade and maturity levels, have students read the essay, "Myth or Fact." Then, announce to your students that they will be participating in a classroom HIV/AIDS research conference.

  2. Divide the class into teams and provide each team with the HIV/AIDS data tables you have selected. The data describe the incidence of new HIV infections for the United States in the years 2006, 2009, and the prevalence of AIDS in the U.S. in the year 2007.

  3. Challenge each team to review the data in the CDC tables and produce a graph, chart or some other document that illustrates the relationship between the data in two or more of the tables. Students should be careful to note whether a table is reporting data by percentage or raw number. Each team’s goal is to create a presentation on the HIV/AIDS pandemic as it relates to the U.S. Presentations should explain students’ observations clearly, in a way the entire class will be able to understand. If desired, the U.S. data can be related to worldwide numbers examined in the previous activity, “Mapping the Spread of HIV/AIDS.”

  4. Discuss different ways to interpret and present the data through tables, graphs, diagrams etc. For example, students might elect to use graphs in the form of bar charts, pie charts, scatter plots, etc. Also, allow students to be creative in their choices of media used to communicate their findings (e.g., posters, flip-charts, PowerPoint® presentations, artwork, video, etc.).

  5. Help students understand how to read and compare the different tables. They will see the abbreviation, “N,” used to refer to the total number of subjects represented in a table.

    Because different statistical methods were used to derive information for the tables, some tables relating to the same topic have different “N” values. For example, in some tables, the numbers for Asian/Pacific Islander and American Indian/Alaska Native groups are too small to allow for accurate estimates. Consequently, totals for those racial/ethnic groups are not included in some tables, which reduces the tables’ “N” value.

    The table presenting the incidence of new HIV infections presents data as a rate per 100,000. This means, as an example, that for each 100,000 Hispanic/Latino persons in the United States, 40 individuals acquired a new HIV infection in 2009. (Note: some tables present data as percentages rather than raw numbers.)

  6. Conduct a class “HIV/AIDS Research Conference,” during which students share their presentations, explain the data they used and present their conclusions.

  7. Discuss each team’s findings with the entire class. Some of the questions below may help to promote student responses and learning.

  • What do your data show?

  • Based on the data, which groups are at greatest risk for contracting HIV?

  • How do these totals relate to the population as a whole?

  • Are males or females more likely to become infected with HIV?

  • Is any age or racial/ethnic group untouched by HIV/AIDS?

  • Why are HIV and AIDS reported separately in the tables?

  • Is HIV transmission limited to homosexual contact?

Sample Conclusions

  • The prevalence of HIV infection in the U.S. is well below that in some nations, but it is nevertheless a major health issue in our country.

  • Although Black/African Americans make up only 13% of the total U.S. population, they accounted for a disproportionately high number (45%) of the new HIV infections in 2006.


  • Talk with your students about the ways to prevent HIV infection. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provide explicit information on prevention measures. Your school or school district may have specific recommendations about how to discuss this topic with students (

  • Invite a public health medical professional to visit your class. Have student teams present their findings again, and discuss the results with this guest.

Related Content


    HIV/AIDS Teacher Guide

    Students read essays, conduct activities, and use actual data from the CDC and other sources to learn about HIV/AIDS and the spread of disease. (5 activities, 5 essays)

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Science Education Partnership Award, NIH

Science Education Partnership Award, NIH

Grant Number: 5R25RR018605